South Asia / 05.11.2010

By Anjum Altaf I see the future in India being shaped by the intersection of three major tendencies playing out in the context of one major trend, the difference between a tendency and a trend being that the former is reversible and the latter not. And there is one joker in the pack. The three tendencies are increased empowerment of some of the poor via the democratic process, the recourse by the marginalized to rebellion, and the attraction of the middle classes to soft authoritarianism. The trend is urbanization. And the joker in the pack is economic growth. Let me speculate on how these forces might make themselves felt over the next decade or so.
Development / 07.10.2010

By Anjum Altaf   At the conclusion of the 2006 Asian Games I had written an article (Pakistan: A Downward Spiral) using performance in sports as an objective indicator of the structural changes that could have been taking place over the years in China, India, and Pakistan, respectively. The indicator pointed to a stunning improvement in China, an upward trend in India after a period of stagnation, and a steep decline in Pakistan. Readers questioned the validity of the indicator but offered nothing better as an alternative. Given how cavalier people are in their comparisons between India and Pakistan, using broad generalizations of poverty and corruption to dismiss the diverging trends in the two countries, I continue to believe the indicator yields valuable insights to those who wish to face facts rather than deny reality.
Behavior / 11.03.2010

By Anjum Altaf I attended a talk by Professor Vali Nasr where he presented the central argument of his new book Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What it Will Mean for Our World. Professor Nasr is an influential voice as senior advisor to Richard Holbrooke, the special Representative of the US for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which makes it relevant to summarize his views and to identify some areas of agreement and disagreement. Professor Nasr’s underlying hypothesis was quite straightforward: the middle class transformed the modern West and it can transform the Muslim world as well. The rise of trade, capitalism and merchant life is the most important trend at work and one that shapes the contours of culture and delimits the uses of religious belief. From this vantage point the prescription follows logically: if Islamic countries are integrated into the global economy, this trend would shape the cultural landscape of the Muslim world.
India, Modernity / 26.03.2008

By Dipankar Gupta Why should the best graduates from a strong middle class society cash in their chips to head for the Silicon Valley? But this is what happens in India. As a knowledge society, can we hold our head contents high when even the Philippines has more than six times the number of qualified engineers per thousand than we have here? Is it surprising then that in a land of a billion people the Information Technology sector employs only three million and no more? If we now go below the brain line then is our consumption standard at least indicative of a strong middle class? In which case, why is it that only 3% of Indian households own cars?  Does our boast not sound ridiculous especially when more than 4.5 million American households below the poverty line own cars with 290,000 of them actually owning three...

Politics / 16.12.2007

By Ahmed Kamran  Curiously, Pakistan passes through a cycle of political tumult and unrest after about every ten years that somehow leads to a change of the ‘faces’. After the political upheavals of 1958, 1968, 1977-78, 1988, and 1998-99 we are about to enter into 2008 with yet another ‘middle class revolution’ brewing in some urban areas.  Politics is much like Plato’s allegory of a cave where we do not see the real world but only the images of the people outside the cave being formed on the wall. Likewise, on the Pakistan political stage, we do not see the ‘reality’ but only the ‘images’ that are being projected onto the screen, now immensely powerful images with global satellite TV. Sentimental viewers of mostly middle classes tend to get so much emotionally involved in the play that they start ascribing their own latent ‘dreams’ and memories of their...